All of us need an occasional escape from a certain reality. This is a part of what vacations are for. And yet, for me anyways, I can never really escape. Equipped with my cell phone and IPad, and access to an internet connection, I'm never very far from the latest Supreme Cout decision, NBA trade, the latest Padre loss, David Brooks' column, or the latest death at Village. (I am not sure why this happens, but people always seem to die when pastors go on vacation—or go somewhere to candidate). Talking to my secretary yesterday (from Hawaii, where I have gone to escape), I discovered that there have been at least six related deaths since I left.
Nonetheless, knowing that it is important to occasionally decompress and unwind, I have found Hawaii (second time here) to be the ideal place. There is something about palm trees and aqua blue water, swimming with sea turtles in Waimea Bay and drinking guava nector that rejuvenates me. Along with light reading. Last time I came, I worked through Eric Mataxes' amazing biography of Bonhoeffer. This time I decided to do something lighter, so I made the mistake of throwing in Brueggemann's Like Fire in the Bones—Listening for the Prophetic Word in Jeremiah.
I became utterly captivated with this book, reading it every chance I got. Which might not have been so good. If you want to escape from reality, Jeremiah is one of the last books you want to encounter. His principal mission was to confront his contemporaries with God's reality, and the hazardous consequences of coming to grips with it.
As Brueggemann sees it, Jeremiah is as relevant as any book for our age, for we too are living in what may also be our eleventh hour. We are watching the termination of the world we have loved too long and lost. We are engaged in a denial that does not face reality. The only hope is a prophetic voice that will shatter the illusions people are living in—"shock sensitivity, call attention to what is not noticed, break the routine, cause people to redescribe things that have long since seemed settled." To the beach bums I pass on the sidewalks of Waikikee, who unashamedly put out the sign with a cup, "Why Lie—Need Beer", Jeremiah warns—"Life is forfeited if it tries Yahweh too long."
For Brueggemann, Jeremiah serves as a challenge to Christ followers to be a voice for life in a world bent on death–declare words of sanity in a world trapped in madness. The gospel compels us to be urgent, subversive, prophetic (and therefore dangerous). As he puts it, "the prophetic community is the one authorized and compelled to know exactly what time it is".
Why am I reading this in Hawaii, where I don't want to know what time it is? Today, Heather and I went for a morning swim. The sun was out, the trade winds were blessing us with their breeze, and we rode the swells up and down…and she asked what I have been reading. My Jeremiah conversation did not get much traction. We soon focused on other subjects, like where we will go for dinner. Reality may have to give way a couple of more days to paradise—which I realize is only a foretaste. And yet, in some strange way, this seems to be the best of places to read Jeremiah. Life is always this strange mix of both joy and grief, confronting and escaping, living in the flesh and living in the Spirit—with a God who is this well of living water (2:13) who yet withholds the showers (3:3); a Shepherd who gathers, yet scatters (23:1-4); always keeping us a bit off balance, keeping the future beyond our control—calling us to never get too far from reality.